Archive for the 'Lower-Court Elections' Category
A fundraising dinner hosted by four New York Republican judicial candidates has attracted bipartisan criticism, according to a (Rochester) Democrat and Chronicle editorial. The invitation, sent to more than 3000 lawyers, listed 14 co-hosts, mostly spouses of sitting judges. The judges themselves are prohibited from hosting the dinner.
Bert Brandenburg, Executive Director of Justice at Stake, says the problem is judicial fundraising in general. “Money is becoming a cancer on the judiciary across the country,” he said “… Every judge who has a tough criminal case can’t help but look over the shoulder and think, ‘What’s the ad that’s going to be cut on this one?’”
“The explosion of money is forcing judges to become professional fundraisers, forcing them to raise big money from people who appear before them,” Brandenburg continued. “Even on a good day any system that combines money and justice is going to be messy and complicated at best.”
When a national organization, the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), pumped a six-figure sum in a lower-court election to defeat an incumbent judge, it captured national news media attention (see Gavel Grab). Now a local newspaper is following the money trail.
According to the Jefferson City (Mo.) News Tribune, “Missouri billionaire Rex Sinquefield gave $300,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee in October, an RSLC filing with the federal Internal Revenue Service shows.” The RSLC gave more than $304,000 to its Missouri political action committee, which spent $10,000 in support of a local legislative candidate and “most of the rest” in support of Brian Stumpe, a Republican who unsuccessfully challenged Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce, a Democrat.
The News Tribune reports, “Sinquefield’s $300,000 donation would appear to be a direct contribution to the RSLC, for its expenses in Missouri. But his donation was just under 55 percent of the total $548,349 the RSLC received from Missourians during the Oct. 1-Nov. 24 reporting period.” Read more
It’s an unusual twist for New Mexico’s hybrid merit system of selecting judges. A district court judge whom voters chose not to retain in November is seeking appointment by the governor to fill the vacancy created by his defeat.
District Judge Albert J. Mitchell Jr. of Tucumcari failed to win a retention (up-or-down) vote after late-hour campaigning by a newly established political group called the Committee for Law and Order, according to the Albuquerque Tribune.
A lawyer who largely funded the committee, Warren F. Frost, recently asked the state Supreme Court to bar a judicial screening commission from weighing Mitchell’s application to fill the judgeship by appointment. The high court rejected Frost’s request. Read more
A local Arkansas judge was censured by the state Judicial Disability and Discipline Commission for conduct in a campaign this year that the commission said violated rules of ethics for judges.
Circuit Judge Doug Martin of Fayetteville made “statements that were improperly prejudicial and harassing against his opponent and his opponent’s supporters,” the commission told him in a letter, according to Arkansas News.
The judge’s behavior “went beyond normal election rhetoric and gave the appearance of coercion whether intended or not,” the commission added.
A Frederick (Md.) News Post editorial says about electing judges: “Ask yourself this: Would you want heart surgery from a doctor who was elected by popular vote?”
Following a “dramatic” surprise in a Frederick County Circuit Court race, the editorial asserts that it’s time to reconsider the way such judges are picked in Maryland. A nonpartisan commission screens qualified candidates and gives recommendations to the governor, who makes an appointment. Circuit judges seek a new term by running in a nonpartisan, contested election. Read more
When voters in Cole County, Mo. reelected an incumbent circuit court judge this month, many of them recognized a “dark money campaign was neither fair nor factual” on behalf of the challenger, a Jefferson City News Tribune editorial said.
Jefferson City is Missouri’s capital, and it is located in Cole County. The editorial was commenting on the race between challenger Brian Stumpe, supported with six-figure spending by the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), and incumbent Judge Pat Joyce. The RSLC is a national group based in Washington, D.C.
“We commend Cole County voters for rejecting a climate of fear and for vanquishing it with their votes. They have sent a message that walkers bringing dark money are not welcome here,” the editorial said. The editorial relied on Wikipedia for a Read more
The contest drew national media attention when the Republican State Leadership Committee supported prosecutor Stumpe. It backed him with nearly $300,000 in funding, including direct donation to the campaign and also for advertising critical of Judge Joyce.
The lower-court election took on outsized importance as the court’s jurisdiction includes challenges to the constitutionality of state laws and the language of ballot measures. Judge Joyce is a Democrat. Stumpe is a Republican. Read more
In Kentucky, U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar said a candidate for a state district judgeship can say in campaign materials that he’s a conservative Republican.
The ruling in the case of candidate Cameron Blau invalidated a judicial ethics canon barring judicial candidates from stumping for election as a member of a political party, but it was not clear, the Associated Press said, whether the court’s order applied to every judicial candidate.
It also was not clear whether the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission would appeal the new ruling. Jeffrey Mando, a lawyer representing the commission, said, “I think that the canon is important because it supports the (state’s) compelling interest in diminishing the reliance on political parties in the selection of judges and it promotes the nonpartisan nature of judicial elections in Kentucky.”No comments
As a $200,000 injection of outside money from a national group (see Gavel Grab) changes the focus of a Cole County, Missouri election for Circuit Court, a St. Louis Post editorial calls for changing the way judges are chosen there.
Cole County voters would do well to follow the model of Greene County voters, who decided in 2008 to halt electing local judges and instead adopt the merit-based selection system that is used to choose local judges in St. Louis and Kansas City, and all state appellate judges, the editorial says.
“The administration of justice is too important to have questions about whether one donor, or a group of donors, can buy their own judicial outcomes by using their cash to tilt an election,” the editorial asserts. Read moreNo comments
And more than two out of three voters in Cole County are concerned that politically charged judicial elections will pressure judges to make decisions based on public opinion, rather than the facts and the law, JAS said in disclosing the results of a poll it commissioned of 579 voters.
According to recent news reports, the Republican State Leadership Committee has injected $200,000 into the race. Cole County Circuit Court is influential throughout the state, having jurisdiction over lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of state statutes or the wording of ballot measures. Cole County is the seat of the state capitol.
“Not surprisingly, Cole County voters grow very suspicious when out of state money is injected into judicial elections,” said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake in a statement. Read moreNo comments